Building partnerships, expertise
to improve the aging experience
Jan Mutchler, PhD
Director, Gerontology Institute, UMass Boston
The Massachusetts legislature established the Gerontology Institute in 1984 to serve as a resource for the Commonwealth. Institute researchers would help legislators, state agencies, and the general public understand our older population and plan for their increasing numbers. Nearly 40 years later, this vision is more important and timely than ever before. Today, stakeholders across the Commonwealth and throughout the nation count on the Gerontology Institute, now expanded to include four centers, for unique expertise--contributing far beyond what its founders initially imagined.
As the research, service, and community engagement arm of the gerontology enterprise at UMass Boston, the Gerontology Institute produces research, collaborates with stakeholders to improve systems and communities, and offers programs and services that enhance the lives of older adults. For example, this year researchers expanded scientific knowledge on the social determinants of health with topics ranging from the impact of intergenerational relationships and social engagement on health and well-being to behavioral and environmental factors shaping isolation and loneliness. Faculty researchers and staff in our Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging and our LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston partnered with stakeholders to promote healthy aging and age-friendly communities and to impact policies that shape long-term services and supports. Our work continues to be motivated by a commitment to promoting equity in aging—in health, in access to services and supports, in life conditions and in financial security.
More than ever, we partner with older adults, communities, and organizations as we work toward enriching the lives of older people. Our Pension Action Center, which helps older adults recover pension benefits they have earned, and our Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which develops and delivers innovative educational opportunities for older adults, enhance the lives of hundreds of older adults each year. Involving undergraduate and graduate students enriches our work as we in turn contribute to their educational and professional development goals.
The coming year is certain to be one of growth and change as we join the Manning College of Nursing and Health Sciences, where we look forward to building new collaborations and expanding our impact. Our work will not lose its focus on public policy, which was central to our original mission, as we maintain the valued partnerships we have built over decades with our colleagues in the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, now a school housed within the university’s College of Liberal Arts.
As always, I welcome your questions and suggestions as we pursue our increasingly critical mission of enhancing the aging experience for all.
Celebrating a year of transitions
Edward Alan Miller, PhD
Chair, Department of Gerontology, UMass Boston
The Department of Gerontology had a strong year informed by our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Among the highlights were awarding the first Frank Caro Scholarship for Social Justice in Aging to gerontology doctoral student Adriana Hernandez, who you’ll meet elsewhere in this report. The Caro Scholarship was established in memory of long-time department leader, Frank Caro, to support gerontology doctoral students who want to prioritize underrepresented communities in their research.
We welcomed Jacqueline Contrera Avila, PhD, to campus last fall as our newest faculty member. Avila is a population health researcher with experience in U.S. and Latin America population-based data. This year she received a seed grant from the UMass Boston–Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center Partnership, a National Cancer Institute effort to increase cancer health equity and diversity in cancer research. Working with Nancy Rigotti, MD, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, she is studying older smokers and the relationship of their neighborhood-level socioeconomic status and their likelihood of quitting smoking (read more).
We provided students with critical new service learning and research opportunities thanks to funding from grants, contracts, and community partnerships with such organizations as the Planning Office for Urban Affairs, Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs, LeadingAge, and UMass Chan Medical School. Through a successful grant application, we created a Pathways to Building an Aging Services Workforce internship program, funded by the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services. The aim of the program is to prepare juniors and seniors for careers to help older adults age-in-place with the possibility of full-time employment post-graduation.
The Pathways internships go hand-in-hand with exciting growth in our undergraduate program, recently renamed “Aging Studies.” Rising enrollments and new course offerings mean more students can earn a credential that helps them to pursue employment or graduate school as the challenges and opportunities of population aging impact every sector of the economy. Starting this fall, students will be able to earn a minor in Aging Studies by taking any four courses in the curriculum.
The productivity of our faculty, students, and alumni is impressive. Among recent honors and appointments:
Professor Marc Cohen was appointed co-chair of the Finance System Committee of the Moving Forward Nursing Home Quality Coalition
Professor Beth Dugan was honored by former Governor Charlie Baker for her service on the Governor’s Council to Address Aging
Doctoral student Elisabeth Stam received the Graduate Student Research Award from the American Society on Aging, and a Women of Distinction Award from her New York State Assembly member
Doctoral students Janelle Fassi, Taylor Jansen, Shayna Gleason, and Shu Xu won awards at the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America, where UMass Boston gerontology presented more than 50 talks and posters
Doctoral alumna Kirsten Corazzini became dean of the College of Health and Human Services at the University of New Hampshire.
Our doctoral program now counts 108 graduates with the hooding of Celeste Beaulieu, Mei Chen, Taylor Jansen, Ngai Kwan, and Corina Ronneberg. The range of organizations where these newly minted PhDs serve as researchers and analysts illustrates the breadth of opportunities available to our graduates:
Celeste Beaulieu: Advocates for Human Potential, Inc.
Mei Chen: Central Jersey Family Health Consortium
Taylor Jansen: Healthy Aging Data Reports, UMass Boston Gerontology
Ngai Kwan: Institute for Community Inclusion, UMass Boston
Corina Ronneberg: Division of Academic Internal Medicine and Geriatrics at the University of Illinois Chicago
Congratulations as well to the graduates of our undergraduate Aging Studies major, our Management of Aging Services master’s program, and our certificate programs.
I want to recognize the invaluable contributions of Professor Nina Silverstein, who retired this past spring after 29 years at UMass Boston. Nina is a stellar colleague and exemplary scholar, educator, and citizen of the profession. We look forward to her continued affiliation as a professor emerita.
2022-2023 was a year of program building and accomplishments. I look forward with excitement to this forthcoming year.